Cultivating relationships and raising resources for United Way of Southwest Oklahoma’s partnering agencies in order to help others is something Lauren Ellis finds rewarding.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping people and giving back,” Ellis said. “I feel like southwest Oklahoma is a very giving community and the people genuinely want to help one another.”
Before joining the nonprofit sector, the Duncan native received her Bachelor of Arts in Letters - a prelaw degree that involves political science, history, foreign language, and critical thinking, from the University of Oklahoma.
Ellis then worked with Duncan Public Schools and the Regional Food Bank to establish the Food For Kids program. “That was really the first experience I had in seeing an idea with relationships and resources come together to make a difference,” she said. “Making the connections in order to help those in need was just so gratifying.” At that time, Ellis also helped raise money through the DPS Foundation for the City of Champions project to update the schools’ athletic facilities.
When the executive director position was opened at Stephens County United Way in 2011, Ellis was onboard. “I was offered the position and it just felt right,” she said. “I’ve never regretted accepting that call or taking on the challenge.”
Three years later, she was named president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Oklahoma, a position she has held for about six years. In 2018, the Lawton-based organization and its partnering agencies positively impacted more than 21,000 families throughout the region, reports indicate.
Sharing United Way’s goal to be the most effective way to give to the community, Ellis said, “We’re building relationships to understand the pulse of the community so we can best position ourselves to help. While we may not be the one providing the direct services for that person or family, we’ll know exactly who to call to get them the help they need.”
Ellis was one of 15 CEOs selected for the United Way’s Worldwide Executive Leadership Development Program in 2015. She is an alumna of Leadership Oklahoma’s Class XXXI and is part of the Oklahoma Academy, a nonprofit group to improve state policies. She also serves on the Workforce Development and Career Pathways subcommittee for the Governor’s Council and is on the boards of Lawton-Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Lawton-Fort Sill.